“What a sad thing it is,” a friend wrote to me last fall, “to see so many young people leaving the church.” But are they? Whenever the point arises, someone invariably replies: “Yes, but they return when they are older.” There have been an impressive number of studies on this question, but they all reach a chilling unanimity. Few of the departees do come back. Nearly all are gone for good. Moreover, the exodus begins in the high school years, not in university. The supporting data are alarming. Examples:
To recite all these dreary facts might seem an odd way of marking a joyous Christmas, but I have a reason. Over my lifetime, I have no doubt heard about 65 Christmas sermons and twice as many Easter sermons. I can’t remember more than three that dealt with this question: Did The Thing Really Happen? Did Christ really rise from the dead? Was the conception of Jesus in his mother really accomplished without a human father? Was Jesus really God Himself reduced to human terms? Did the death and rising of Jesus really bring about a total change in the relation of God to man and of God to the whole biological order? And what of all the recurring miracles– the raising of Lazarus, the changing of water into wine, the curing of probable hundreds of hopelessly stricken people—did these things really happen, or are they myths?
You’d think sermons delivered at Christmas and Easter would focus in on such questions. Well, thy don’t. Nor are they mentioned in most churches at any other time. Why is this? Several reasons suggest themselves:
However, nearly all the doubts raised by honest inquirers inevitably come down to one issue, raised by Jesus himself: “Who do men say that I am?” Today the popular response would be that Jesus was a benevolent and gentle teacher who preached a simple religion of love and pacifism. But his message was soon buried by theorists like St. Paul and replaced by a set of complex dogmas that few people can understand and fewer want to. Again, the precise opposite is true: Nearly all the Gospel references to Jesus’ divinity originate with Jesus himself: (“Before Abraham was, I AM”) (“The man who has seen me has seen God.”) (“Your sins are forgiven,”) and at his trial when the High Priest asks: “Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus replies: “I AM, and ye shall see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power, coming in the clouds of heaven.” For this, he was convicted of blasphemy, and blasphemy it certainly was unless, course, it was true.
This article continues at [Ted Byfield Blog] Reflection on the recent ‘holiday’: Did this Christmas thing actually happen?